It is now more than thirty years since C. R Snow’s Cambridge Rede Lecture, “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,” popularized the notion of a dangerous rift between the literary and scientific worldviews. Snow put the blame on the pessimistic, anti-social, and politically silly literary intellectual, and opposed to him the optimistic and socially concerned scientist who had the future in his bones. In Snow’s view, the culture of literature, the traditional culture, had been “remarkably little diminished by the emergence of the scientific one, which rules the Western world.” E. R. Leavis’ Richmond Lecture at Cambridge a couple of years later was the best publicized and probably the angriest rebuttal of Snow’s position. Plainly, Leavis took a dim view of whatever future the scientific culture had in its bones. For better or worse, the controversy was upstaged when another rift began to develop, now between the traditional culture and the counterculture, which never had any doubt about whose bones the future resided in, and in fact was inclined to believe that literary and scientific intellectuals had long before entered into an unholy alliance to repress the questing human spirit.
In the meantime, the world has gone on in its usual rift-creating fashion, casting aside future-impregnated bones as indiscriminately as a grave robber. But just as it is possible for some to believe that counterculturists are not quite on the verge of becoming an endangered species, so it is still possible for others to believe that C. E Snow was mainly right. Indeed, the disarray of literature and the arts in the postmodern world favors the conviction that if there is hope anywhere it is with the culture of science. Nevertheless, recent developments in the scientific culture, especially as we see them reported in books like James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science, suggest that Snow’s greatest mistake was his failure to take into account the extent to which the literature of science is literature itself, which has all along anticipated much of what science ultimately spells out in its own terms”terms that have often enough seemed invidious to literature. The rift between the two cultures has tended to obscure this relationship; certainly it obscured it for Snow and Leavis as well.
Thirty-four years before Snow’s lecture, Alfred North Whitehead in Science and the Modern World (1925) had made it clear that the relationship was not obscure to him. He knew that “until recently nearly all writers have been soaked in classical and renaissance literature,” with the result that they have tended to ignore philosophy and science. Nevertheless, he recognized that “it is in literature that the concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression.” With this conviction in mind, and thinking in particular of Wordsworth and Shelley, he is moved to ask: “Is it not possible that the standardized concepts of science are only valid within narrow limitations, perhaps too narrow for science itself?”
Gleick, I think, would have answered in the affirmative. “There has always been a feeling, not always expressed openly,” he says, “that theoretical physics has strayed far from human intuition about the world.” So he tells us that the French physicist Albert Libchaber’s intuition that “the recursive power of flows within flows” needed not only the mystical inspiration of Goethe but the language of the poet Wallace Stevens rather than the standard differential calculus. And he needed no less, Gleick might have added, what three centuries ago Giambattista Vico was calling fantasia, that faculty of imaginative understanding so conspicuously lacking in the Enlightenment absolutists who, as Isaiah Berlin has pointed out, did so much to create the rift between the sciences and the humanities. Vico’s fantasia abhors partial vision, and the great mathematician and astronomer Henri Poincare is on his side when he observes in his Last Essays that in questions of ethics science alone cannot suffice because it “can see only one part of man, or, if you prefer, it sees everything but it sees everything from the same angle.”
Gleick is concerned with the paradox that within this relatively new chaos, so upsetting to the order that physicists, astronomers, and biologists had learned to expect, the computer makes it possible to discover a new kind of order. This is the reversal of expectation that in literature we know as peripety, that unsettling surprise that, however it may threaten the perceived universe of a particular character, ultimately serves the achieved order of the work, which may be said to thrive on the disorder that opposes a simplistic solution to problems of plot, character, and theme. The experience of great literature, grounded as it is on the concrete nature of reality, is the repeated experience of this paradox so that the peripeties of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s King Lear are prefaces to the unsettling peripeties of Einstein, Heisenberg, and Bohr.
With paradox we are in the ample territory of irony, and literature is the prescientific school of ironic perception. After Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Stevens we are well prepared for the “sensitive dependence on initial conditions” that in chaos theory is given the poetic name of the Butterfly Effect: “the notion that a butterfly stirring the air today in Peking can transform storm systems next month in New York.” Gleick sees this magnifying effect of small changes in folklore, but a literary person, and certainly humanistic scientists like Whitehead and Nobel laureate Erwin Schrodinger, are more likely to be struck with the butterfly effect of Desdemona’s handkerchief in Othello, Achilles’ wrath in Homer’s Iliad, and Eve’s eating of the apple in Milton’s Paradise Lost (“all nature felt the shock”), or of Marcel’s tasting of the madeleine dipped in herb tea in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. And where more than in Hamlet, set in a particular place and time with a limited cast of characters interrelated in quite specific ways, do we experience the mysterious and ironic disproportion between mere spatial dimension and the immensely more extensive structural and thematic dimension that characterizes the fractal that figures so prominently in chaos theory?
Even those contemporary scientists who remain skeptical empiricists in the face of what they rightly sense to be the metaphysical threats of the fractal and the butterfly’s wing have literary antecedents”the skeptical and nature-loving Roman philosopher-poet Lucretius, for instance. The latter’s De Rerum Natura, with its reduction of reality to blindly tumbling atoms, prepares for the necessitarianism of the eighteenth-century mathematician Laplace and his epigones (among them, of course, anti-metaphysical literary naturalists like Zola, the Goncourts, Theodore Dreiser, and Samuel Beckett). Perhaps an even more memorable anticipation of Laplace and his kind is in Shakespeare’s Othello, in which the cynical materialist Iago is just as certain as Laplace is in his A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities that “all the effects of nature can be reduced to a small number of immutable laws””laws which, as Shakespeare in anticipation of Whitehead makes dramatically clear, are valid only within very narrow limitations.
Literary people too, especially when they are pressed too hard by those narrow limitations, are capable of their own protective reductions. In this case, we get something like e. e. cummings’ famous couplet “I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing/Than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance””or even, more memorably, Keats’ complaint in “Lamia” that “cold philosophy” (Newton’s optics) threatens to reduce the rainbow to “the dull catalogue of common things.”
But Keats is a more complex person and “Lamia” a more complex poem than this reference to Newton might suggest. The poem can be read as the story of young Lycius’ loss of an erotic Utopia with an entrancing transmogrified serpent because of the jealous hostility of Lycius’ mentor Appolonius, whose unanticipated appearance at the wedding “in philosophic gown” and “with eye severe” results in the vanishing of Lamia and the death of Lycius. But if you approach the poem through Keats’ letters, especially the letter of December 21-27, 1817, to his brothers George and Tom with its famous definition of “negative capability” (“when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”), you may see that the Lamian and Apollonian forces in the poem are not contradictory but complementary, and it is Lycius’ tragic fate not to be able to see this.
Keats, like the greatest literary artists, possesses what Norman Rabkin in his splendid Shakespeare and the Common Understanding calls the vision of complementarity. The immediate reference of the term is to the modern physicist’s conviction that light, previously understood as waves, must now also be thought of as quanta, discrete packets of energy, and that these apparently contradictory theories are really complementary. One must be able to keep both in mind “without any irritable reaching after fact and reason””without, that is, insisting on a reduction in the interest of unity and simplicity. Here, as Rabkin summarizes the physicist Niels Bohr, twentieth-century physicists “forced to live with apparently irresolvable paradoxes and contrarieties are, distressing though it may seem at first, in the mainstream of human experience.” And Bohr is as aware as Whitehead that literature and art are the prime articulators of this mainstream. In “Unity of Knowledge” he observes that “the enrichment which art can give us originates in its power to remind us of harmonies beyond the grasp of systematic knowledge.” So he is looking ahead to chaos theory just as Keats is looking ahead to him and Poincare, and at the same time Bohr is placing on the scientist the same burden of irony that Keats places on all irritable reachers who demand a systematic clarity that will end the matter. And the irony is further burdened by the recognition not only that irritable reaching sometimes pays off but that sometimes serendipity proves to be more important than talent.
Gleick emphasizes the extent to which the comfortably predictable world of the pre-chaos scientist has been upset by the “demon of nonlinearity.” Nonlinear terms “tend to be the features that people want to leave out when they try to get a good simple understanding.” These are the terms that, for better or worse, define caricature, daydreams, melodrama, Manichaean linear thinking, as Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Melville’s Moby Dick, and Joyce’s Ulysses do. They cannot be aesthetically successful without demonstrating the possibility of achieving an order that will stand fast against all threats of peripety, so that in literature at its toughest best the demon of nonlinearity ends up on the side of the angels long before he troubles the world of nuclear physics. And when literature comes up short of its toughest best the demon can have the effect of endorsing some very strange angels: Consciousness III Man of Charles Reich’s The Greening of America, the acidhead visionaries of Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, or the Shirley MacLaine of her Dancing in the Light. Hence one of literature’s cultural obligations is to encourage an ongoing effort to distinguish between valid and bogus nonlinear epistemologies. Thus in astronomy’s long effort to disentangle itself from astrology its grand heuristic model is Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which the poetic sublimities of a drunken Caliban are defined against the truly expanded consciousness of Prospero.
In any event, one of the unavoidable side effects of literature and the arts generally is that they cater to the human need to believe that cognitive dissonance is only a temporary thing, so that they anticipate and support those grand unification theories that have compelled political reformers no less than scientists. The atomic scientist Robert Oppenheimer in his 1953 BBC Reith Lectures considers the expectation of a universal knowledge “to be an illusion fostered by the monistic view of the world in which a few great central truths determine in all its wonderful and amazing proliferation everything else that is true.”
Nevertheless, the expectation never ceases to fire the minds of men. A grand unification theory is the announced goal of that remarkable man, Stephen Hawking, who aspires to “a complete understanding of the universe, what it is and why it exists at all.” As an Oxford and Cambridge-educated man. Hawking must know that he is competing against the epochal grand unification theories in Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The latter become part of the literature of science both by modeling the possibility of a thoroughly satisfactory aesthetic unity and by inciting the anxiety of influence that will later be a factor when Dante’s and Milton’s omniscient and omnipotent Creator is transmuted into Laplace’s formulas of probability.
Perhaps Hawking’s theoretically clarified universe would be one “that sensitive and timid natures could regard without a shudder.” So ends that literary masterpiece The Education of Henry Adams. The book is a brilliant presentation of the cognitive dissonance that results from a faulty education, especially for a historian who continues to be hounded by the models of harmony he found at Chartres Cathedral and in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. “Always and everywhere,” he writes, “the Complex had been true and the Contradiction had been certain.” When in 1904 Arthur Balfour announced “that the human race without exception had lived and died in a world of illusion until the last year of the century,” the peripety for Adams was on the order of Oedipus’ discovery that he was married to his mother. He was a precomplementarity irritable reacher who might have benefited from chaos theory, learning from it that the Dynamo did not necessarily cancel out the Virgin as a reputable source of truth and energy.
But in the meantime his old-fashioned and insufficiently ironic humanistic education had left him with aesthetic expectations of unity that would not stand up against the scientific flowering of the Enlightenment. Chaos for him had its old-fashioned meaning: “In plain words. Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.” Perhaps his problem was not that he had spent too much time with literature and too little with mathematics but that he had not had the advantage of teachers like Lionel Trilling, Norman Rabkin, and Frank Kermode, who might have helped him turn Balfour’s peripety back on himself.
One of those destroyers of unity for Adams was the German zoologist Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel, an ardent and influential Darwinian, was a materialist and determinist. Put his The Riddle of the Universe alongside Adams’ masterwork and you can see how neatly Haeckel solves Adams’ problem about unity by getting rid of free will, religion, and the immortality of the soul (that it is immortal “is the highest point of superstition”) and by his theory of spontaneous generation (his zoological Big Bang that needs no Banger). Haeckel’s universe is as unified as Adams’ is disunified, and Haeckel is as confident about his place in his universe (and his location in a process that will ultimately solve all riddles) as Adams is wracked with doubts. But Haeckel, like the earlier French rationalist Bernard Fontenelle, began with the humanities. Like the determinist Marx, he loved Goethe; he studied painting in Italy and saw art as a possible career, which may have had something to do with the fact that for congenial souls his universe has the same aesthetic appeal that Lucretius’ does: it spells out their dearest expectations that the universe when truly known will have the clarity of a great poem.
But this is the way it is for all materialistic determinists who apprehend the universe as an enclave of order, the perfect work of art liberated from any vulgar reliance on an identifiable and worshipable artist. Lucretius even manages to smuggle free will into it: the chance consequence of the rubbing together of tumbling atoms. Only a man steeped in literature could have come up with such a fabulous theory. Laplace, having put literature behind him and staked all on the laws of probability, may have been as blindingly in thrall to his mathematics as Macbeth was to the predictions of his witches, but there is no reason to doubt the aesthetic perfection of his vision of reality. For Haeckel and Laplace, as for Adams in his bleaker moods, there is no aesthetic alternative to total determinism. All three of them might have benefited from Poincare, who held that while science introduces determinism wherever it penetrates, still “the domain of conscience remains inviolate.” But Poincare as Adams read him was just one more obstacle to the grand unification he yearned for.
All grand unification theories are modeled by the metaphor, literature’s prime means of clarification and the epistemological foundation of Whitehead’s “concrete outlook of humanity.” It is in metaphor that the apparently irreconcilable terms are reconciled, revealed in a peripety to be complementary in a meaningful new context that does not deny the validity of the prior context in which the constituent terms were located. When Macbeth in the well-known speech is forced to confront the shattering reversal of all his expectations, he sees life as a “brief candle,” a “walking shadow,” an actor “that struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more” and as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.” The metaphors not only reinforce one another in a powerful clarification of Macbeth’s experience of peripety but each metaphor is the expression of a creative act that counters his nihilism. His very language implies a perspective beyond his own, which is the perspective of the play. The aesthetically unified tragic experience is possible only if the reader or audience can hold both perspectives in mind: giving priority to the play’s without refusing to concede to Macbeth’s its own reality and logic. In his own way, then, Shakespeare is preparing his readers to expect and accept without too much irritable reaching the complexities and contradictions, including contradictory theories about light, that are at once the causes of cognitive dissonance and the conditions of human knowing.
In metaphor, we see the same unpredictable and paradoxical excess that Gleick sees in the butterfly’s wing and the fractal. The metaphor is the primordial closer of rifts; its dramatic promise is that unexpected and significant connections will continue to be possible, and its implied threat is that when we can no longer believe in that promise we will have to use another metaphor to express our loss of faith: something like Macbeth’s “tale told by an idiot.” The metaphor is the established and prescientific epistemological structure that cultivates the mind’s capacity to accept those peripeties of science in which the unexpected microscopic perspective is shown to be complementary to the more familiar macroscopic perspective which it appears to contradict”so that they are in analogy with the double vision imposed on the reader of Don Quixote and Hamlet.
But as we have learned, wherever there is metaphor the demon of nonlinearity can go to work, arousing the usual fears about unpredictability and loss of rational control, as we see in people like Francis Bacon, John Locke, the French critic-novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, and the late Paul de Man. For such people metaphor not only promises more than it can deliver but its promises are too often grounded on false consciousness, so that a loss of faith in it is the beginning of wisdom”perhaps the philosopher Richard Rorty’s discovery (bad news for Haeckel and his kind) that out there there is really no “out there.”
Of course, metaphoric perception has all the vulnerability to skeptical attack that any leap of faith has. Like so much writing that gathers under the ample umbrella of literature, it has a notorious capacity to undercut itself with low and middle-brow banalities, hasty generalizations, ad nauseam repetitions, and marketplace hyperboles. But to lose faith in it for this specious reason (as if a high incidence of adultery casts doubt on the validity of marriage) is to lose faith not only in literature but in the mind’s capacity to make those nonlinear leaps beyond present certainties that give Einstein an occupation and Hawking precedent for his dream of grand unification. Without this faith, as distinguished scientist-humanists like J. Bronowski and Michael Polanyi have pointed out, science is nowhere and Macbeth’s despairing statement is hard to improve on. Producers of literature, when they are not themselves wracked with doubts or preoccupied with taking a postmodern revenge on traditional expectations of order, speak out of a prescientific discipline of expectation”a school of faith that models the need to bracket with ironic reservation that information which, if not bracketed, would insist simplistically that life is only a bracket-defying tale told by an idiot.
Shakespeare, despite the efforts of the neohistoricists and exuberant revisionists like the Gary Taylor of Reinventing Shakespeare, is a powerful proponent of this discipline. At the end of The Winter’s Tale, when the amazed and once faithless Leontes is still not certain whether his long-lost Hermione is really standing alive before him or is only a magician’s illusion, the “magician” Paulina tells him: “It is required/You do awake your faith.” Her formula”no faith, no love, no life”implies that she, like the playwright, knows all about sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Einstein is on her side when he says, “I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.” For Haeckel, of course, Paulina is asking him to believe in a miracle, and in his heart of hearts he knows that the brilliant progress of modern science “has excluded from the story of the earth all question of miracles.”
As Shakespeare and his kind never tire of telling us, the most dangerous rift of all is that between the culture of faith and the culture of faithlessness. Haeckel with his scorn of “the mystic faith based on revelation” and his bold embrace of pure monism would appear to belong with the culture of faithlessness. Fortunately for his peace of mind, he did not live long enough to read Erwin Schrodinger’s Mind and Matter (the 1956 Tarner Lectures at Cambridge), which gives little comfort to confirmed monists, to say nothing of Schrodinger’s later My View of the World, which even has good things to say about Buddhist wisdom. Nevertheless, Haeckel, in whose vision of the universe the possibility of free will is aesthetically offensive, finds in Goethe “a perfect poetic expression” of his own philosophy. But this is the Goethe who makes the admiring assertion in “Shakespeare ad Infinitum” that Shakespeare’s distinction lies in the fact that “in his plays Will and Necessity struggle to maintain an equilibrium.” We may fault Goethe now for having shared Keats’ objection to Newton’s theories about light, but his own faith, as Faust makes clear, was the prescientific faith of a literary man who never doubted that his sense of reality would stand up against skeptical empiricists. Being no more an optimistic monist than St. Augustine or Michael Polanyi, he was not, like Haeckel, protected from seeing the extent to which in science things are proven because of a synergistic faith in science.
Haeckel, having been born again through his encounter with Darwin, suggests the epistemology of those stalwart members of the culture of faith, the romantic poets, who thought of themselves as sensitive reeds through whom the metaphysical truth of things pulsed like irresistible grace. His book, which is a celebration of “our new monistic religion,” makes it clear that he is in his own way as religious as his French contemporary Comte, who before he became insane never doubted that his positivistic “new religion of humanity” was a surefire program for a grand unification of the world. Such sensitive reeds, lacking Shakespeare’s and Paulina’s irony, easily enroll one another in a gnostic elite whose entrancing anti-metaphysics protects them from those dangerous harmonies that are in the domain of the demon of nonlinearity.
Literature, insofar as it has been concerned with establishing time and entropy-resisting truths that go beyond its own idolization, has always been congenial to religion”so much so that for people like Comte and Haeckel, literature carries a religious virus that threatens the health of their projects. Hence the necessary strategy of a counterreligion with its promise of a triumph over time”a triumph that even promises the end of theory and the end of Nobel prizes as well. But this is time much more simplistically and linearly conceived than it is in The Winter’s Tale. There chronological time, which as Frank Kermode says in The Sense of an Ending is only “waiting time,” must be apprehended ironically in relation to a time of fulfillment, of “intemporal significance.” This time is realizable only if we can discipline our clock-bound irritable reaching. Thus literature, so long as it does not lose faith in itself or take itself to be the beginning and end of faith, in the process of being a school of faith and a school of metaphor is a school of time in which a nonlinear Shakespeare looks forward to Einstein and Poincare. Books, Kermode observes, “are indeed world models,” but they are also science models, and so in the best of them we find not pre-fascist prescriptions for a unity beyond entropy but demonstrations of the order that can be achieved in a creative confrontation with it. So in The Winter’s Tale and in Edmund Spenser’s “Two Cantos of Mutabilitie,” no less than in Henry James’ The Ambassadors, Eliot’s Four Quartets, and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, the second law of thermodynamics is accepted as the given condition of human discovering and making.
Now of course the reductive and grand unifying impulse of Laplace, Comte, and Haeckel is at work in the world of post-structural criticism, which has had to get rid of the author for the same reason that those three had to get rid of God. Admit the author and you risk the beat of a butterfly’s wing that disturbs the air all the way back to the metaphysical. So the late Paul de Man saw the metaphor as a prime cause of delusion and preferred allegory to metaphor as the safer and more rational way to correct the false heuristics of the latter. Deconstruction, Christopher Norris writes in Deconstruction: Theory and Practice, “suspends the persuasive (or meaningful) force of language in the interests of a purified logic of figures.”
In this purified Logic (Henry Adams would have seen it as another sign of the triumph of the Dynamo over the Virgin), one sees that fear of loss of rational control over the sensible universe that led the seventeenth-century rationalist Fontenelle to tolerate poetry only as a social amusement. Now it has become an academic amusement in which the dogma that there is nothing outside the text repeats Haeckel’s dogma that ancient and modern cosmogonies are only poetic fantasy, and at the same time clears the field for an exuberant and highly controlled preoccupation with intersubjectivity and intertextuality. So after the fashion, the post-structuralists have answered Snow’s complaint about the rift between the two cultures by demonstrating a way to make the study of literature just as scientific as the study of nuclear physics. And in this operation, the critic, insofar as he is the prime agent for bridging the rift between insight and ignorance, becomes himself as much an embodied and faith-inspiring metaphor as Laplace was with his magical mathematics of probabilities.
J. Hillis Miller’s 1986 presidential address to the Modern Language Association was an eloquent summarizing statement of this now not-so-new critical persuasion. The bias for a position of scientific integrity, once purged of all those entrancements of metaphor that bothered de Man, is apparent in Professor Miller’s definition of “theory” as “the displacement of literary studies from a focus on the meaning of texts to a focus on the way meaning is conveyed.” One may remember here Haeckel’s concern with the fantastical way the meaning of the text of the universe had been conveyed to him by those who misinterpreted its “great eternal iron laws.” Miller’s remark that the triumph of theory “is evident in the violence and irrationality” of attacks on it repeats the scornful confidence with which Haeckel refers to those (distinguished contemporary physicists and biologists among them) who refused to abandon the “faith of our fathers” as they attacked his new monistic religion.
In the end, Miller hopes for a university in which diversity and heterogeneity produce not a permissive pluralism but “a fair and open fight for survival that is not even sure the fittest will survive but recognizes such an open fight as our only hope.” Unlike Snow’s pessimistic and anti-social literary intellectual, he has the tough optimism that suggests a romantic’s open-ended faith in process but without the romantic’s crippling metaphysical assumptions. At the same time, he has a counterculturist’s commitment to liberating all previously repressed voices from the canonical past. “Let a hundred flowers bloom if they can,” he continues, “even those that seem to me indubitably skunk cabbages and stinkweeds.” But such a skeptically qualified optimism about the future of a truth-seeking endeavor that does not at the same time categorically close out the faith of the fathers would surely please Haeckel no more than Henry Adams, who had had his fill of skunk cabbages and stinkweeds. Nor would it imply that sustaining faith in the value of their operations that scientists now as always have needed.
Indeed, contemporary science might recognize in post-structural criticism the same threat that literature does. As Clifford Geertz has pointed out, the contemporary skeptical and revisionist spirit is “determined to examine science as through and through a social and cultural phenomenon.” Such a “social constructionist” conception of science might seem as menacing to Hawking as it would to Wordsworth, both of whom need to believe that, whatever ontological affinities must be conceded, the distinction between daffodils and stinkweeds is grounded not only in the human intuition about the world but in the nature of things. To give up on this distinction is to court the horticultural disaster that resulted when the hundred flowers of that New Age optimist Chairman Mao produced nothing but skunk cabbages and stinkweeds.
Five years before C. P Snow’s lecture, Arthur Koestler in The Trail of the Dinosaur was commenting on the semantic mutations in national and international politics that were affecting the “false alternatives which obstruct clear thinking” and which (as Keats might have said) have produced so much irritable reaching in the post-World War II world. “It is not a novelty in history,” he continues, “that a real dilemma which once seemed all-important is gradually drained of its meaning and becomes a pseudo-dilemma as new historical realities emerge.” Perhaps the skeptical and revisionist spirit of post-structural critical theory, which in its own terms rejects the disjunction of science and literature as false, will ultimately have the effect of reconciling the two on the quite different terms of a common faith in common fathers. In this case, literature and science will be free to resume their too-often interrupted opposition to the pseudo-dilemma of metaphor or rational control, and literature will be able to continue to do for scientists and the rest of us what Niels Bohr said was its proper business: “remind us of harmonies beyond the grasp of systematic knowledge.”
John P. Sisk is Arnold Professor of the Humanities emeritus at Gonzaga University, and author of The Tyrannies of Virtue (University of Oklahoma Press).